The Trades That Keep On Giving
Boston Bruins President and GM Harry Sinden has been making trades for over 28 years while in charge of the storied franchise that has yet to win a Stanley Cup under his tenure. While no GM is perfect, and Sinden has certainly made his share of some bad deals (Bill Derlago for Tom Fergus anyone?) he has also made several critical swaps that at the time he made them, were heavily criticized in the Boston media,
and by fans because he gave up proven veteran players for underachieving prospects and/or draft choices.
Join us as we analyze three such deals that have paid dividends for the Bruins years after the fact that the veterans the team gave up either retired or switched clubs.
The Barry Pederson incident.
In 1980, the Bruins lucked into an unexpected draft-day fall and snatched up the very talented Barry Pederson, a center out of the Victoria Cougars of the WHL with the 18th selection. While Pederson didn’t immediately make the club, he set club rookie records for goals and points(since broken) and by 1982-83, was a 100-point scorer in the NHL. A severe shoulder injury limited his 1984-85 season (22 games) and effectiveness, and on June 6, 1986, Sinden gambled that he would never return to form, dispatching him to the Vancouver Canucks for a burly young winger named Cam Neely and Vancouver’s 1987 1st-round choice. The Canucks, believing Pederson would make them a much stronger team, willingly made the swap, but Pederson’s yeoman-like 1986-87 year could not overcome the Canucks’ third-worst finish. To make matters worse, Neely instantly became a fan favorite with his banging style and sudden offense, as he caught fire with 36 goals in his inaugural year with the Bruins. Sinden then used the 3rd overall pick in 1987 to select Portland Winterhawks defenseman Glen Wesley, who would make the Bruins in his rookie year and went on to have six more solid season with the Bruins before he became the center of a fateful trade himself. A series of devastating injuries forced an early retirement on Neely at the young age of 31, but not before he racked up 344 goals and 590 points in 525 contests with Boston. In his 10 seasons as a Bruin, he became the NHL’s best power forward and inspired a generation of young hockey players to emulate his hard-nosed, but skilled style. As for Pederson, he bounced around the NHL with Pittsburgh and Hartford until he returned to Boston for the 1991-92 season, a thorough disappointment. Vancouver had hoped Pederson could produce as he had in Boston, but in doing so, mortgaged a large chunk of their future to do so. The same people who criticized Sinden when he initially made the trade quickly embraced the young, bruising forward who in his time in Beantown, gave his heart, soul and body to bring Bruins fans some of the greatest hockey of all.
A Tale of Three Draft Picks.
At the end of the 1994 season, Glen Wesley had begun to make it clear that he intended to earn a big payday after his strong year. Sinden, who had acquired an excellent point man at the trade deadline in Al Iafrate, decided to shop Wesley to see what he could get for the player who had been steady, but unspectacular in his years with the Bruins. The offer he got from the Hartford Whalers was too good to pass up. Prior to the start of the ’94 training camp, Boston announced that Wesley had been dealt to Hartford for the Whalers’ 1st-round draft picks in 1995, 1996 and 1997. The Whalers had last made the playoffs in 1992, and were among the league’s worst teams in 1993 and 94. Sinden realized that a team like the Whalers stood to offer a very good shot at draft position inside the top 10 at least one of the three years, so he pulled the trigger on the trade and Wesley became a Whaler. Ironically enough, had Sinden known that Iafrate would never again suit up for a game with the Bruins due to several questionable injuries, it is likely he would have re-signed Wesley, who was a restricted free agent rather than trade him to a division rival.
Sinden’s strategy paid off when the Whalers finished out of the playoffs for the third straight time in the strike-shortened season of 1994-95. He used Hartford’s choice to select a defenseman out of Tacoma of the WHL, Kyle McLaren. Wesley had an average year with the Whalers, but did not produce the type of numbers expected of him. McLaren on the other hand, became the first 18-year old to make the Bruins since Wesley had eight seasons before. McLaren made the 1996 All-Rookie team and impressed with his blend of size, skill and physical play.
In 1995-96, the Whalers missed the postseason again and the Bruins used the 8th pick of the draft on another defenseman out of the WHL, Medicine Hat’s Johnathan Aitken. When the Whalers finshed out of the playoffs again in 1996-97, it was great news for Boston, who had also hit rock-bottom that year and by virtue of their cellar dwelling, chose Joe Thornton with the top overall choice. Possessing the 8th pick of that draft as well, the Bruins took another wunderkind, diminutive Russian Sergei Samsonov and walked away from the draft the clear winners.
Glen Wesley is still with the team that gave up so much to get him, but never fulfilled the promise of his early years with the Bruins. As for McLaren, he is one of the top young rearguards in the game, a heavy-hitting but skilled defender who has become one of the brightest stars on a young Boston team. Samsonov won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1997-98 and although he has not developed as expected, is still a good offensive threat who could breakthrough this season. Aitken has been a huge disappointment to date, but based on his raw skills and potential there is a chance albeit a very small one that he could yet become a steady stay-at-home regular for the Bruins. Either of McLaren or Samsonov are more than worth the price of Wesley, but to have them both makes Sinden the undisputed winner of the trade.
The Shot Heard ‘Round the World
When Adam Oates criticized Bruins management in the winter of the 1996-97 season for failing to have the commitment to build a winning team, his departure from Boston was all but assured and everyone following the Bruins knew it. But when the trade was made, and not only Oates, but two other key veteran players on the team in Rick Tocchet and goaltender Bill Ranford were also shipped to Washington, the anguished screams of the Bruins faithful could be heard for miles. In return, the Bruins got 1996 Vezina Trophy-winning netminder Jim Carey, but the two other players coming to Boston were what generated the most controversy. In Oates and Tocchet, the Bruins had given up over 500 goals 1000 points of offense for the talented, but enigmatic Jason Allison and relatively unknown Anson Carter. The Bruins also received a third-round draft choice that year, but what did it matter? Allison and Carter were prospects after all, and the Bruins had dealt three of their top players from a very moribund team. Carter was the first to begin to ease the doubts, as he scored 8 goals in his first 19 games in Boston. Allison played as well, generating 12 points in 19 games. Carey had a rough time, which was to be expected with Boston’s young and inexperienced defensive unit. In the three years since, Allison has become a top center in the NHL while Carter is among the brightest talents on the wing. The Bruins used the draft choice to acquire University of North Dakota winger Lee Goren, who led his team to the NCAA Championship and also was the top goal scorer in college with 34 markers in 44 games. Carey ended up being a bust, but when you consider that of the three Boston sent to Washington, only Oates remains, and at age 38 has very little left in the tank, Sinden’s gamble paid off handsomely. Those who believed he made the trade only to slash the budget, now grudgingly concede that he was onto something with the two unknowns who have developed into two of Boston’s most important players. Lee Goren could also become a serious scoring threat after dominating collegiate play.
Three trades. There have been so many more. Some were good, some bad. But if anything, Harry Sinden has proven himself to be a keen judge of hockey talent. In fact, few GMs can claim to have had so much success plucking future stars off the rosters of unsuspecting clubs as he has. After the March 6 trade of Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk to Colorado for Brian Rolston, Samuel Pahlsson, Martin Genier and Martin Samuelsson, fans and critics alike now wait to see who gets the better end of the deal that sent a living legend away for three prospects who have never played a single game in the NHL.
If the past is any indication, Harry Sinden has brought at least a couple of players on board who will make Bruins fans happy for years. Very happy.